NC company gives away 'Hug-A-Hero' dolls to deployed military families

A North Carolina mother is getting results for troops deployed overseas by giving away toys that can help infants facially recognize a parent they may never have even met.

"Where’s dada?" Kelly Kawaihalau asks her son, Caleb.

"Dada," he responds, hugging a doll with a head-to-toe portrait of his dad.

Caleb is spending his second birthday without his father, Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jason Kawaihalau, who is currently stationed in Japan. But the special toy, meant to comfort military families dealing with deployment, keeps him close by.

"He absolutely loves his 'daddy doll,'" Kelly said. "It’s been great for us."

While dad is deployed overseas, back in Beaufort, S.C., Kelly says the doll with Jason’s image helps Caleb cope.

"Are you reading to dada?" she asks Caleb. He nods.

While dad is deployed overseas, back in Beaufort, S.C., Kelly says the doll with Jason’s image helps Caleb cope.

"For him to be able to hug a doll that looks like his dad and have something tangible to have," she said, "I think makes all the difference." 

The 'Hug-A-Hero' dolls are the creation of Tricia Dyal from Jacksonville, N.C. Dyal, who runs a graphic design studio, created the head-to-toe photo dolls 15 years ago for her then-infant daughters. At the time, her husband, Justin, a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, was deployed to Iraq.

The doll helped introduce their kids to dad.

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Caleb is spending his second birthday without his father, Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jason Kawaihalau, who is currently stationed in Japan.

"We didn’t have Skype then," she said. "There was just no way that she would have known who daddy was if not for the doll."

Earlier this month, around 4,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, began deploying to Kuwait amid rising tensions in the Middle East. With the help of donations, Dyal is giving back and getting results. She plans to donate hundreds of hero dolls to hero families who are uncertain when their loved ones will be back home for real.

"It’s tough," she said, recalling her husband’s deployment. "It’s really tough."

Dyal’s studio has already received more than 500 requests for her dolls. She is looking to partner with the USO or Red Cross to help with the rising demand.

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Read more about "Hug-A-Hero" dolls, by clicking here. Sponsor a child by clicking here